On Nov. 6, America will be watching Ohio voters to see which presidential candidate we put over the top. But in Ohio, no issue will hold the long-term weight of Issue 2. The little-known issue seeks to reform a redistricting process that has long been dominated by politicized redistricting — also known as “gerrymandering.”
Unsurprisingly, Republicans have come out against Issue 2. The redistricting process is done every 10 years, and this time, Republicans were in charge to take advantage of it. The First Congressional District, which contains Cincinnati, was redrawn to include GOP-heavy Warren County. With the new boundaries, Republican-leaning rural and suburban voters in Warren County now outweigh Democrat-leaning urbanites in Cincinnati. In other words, if Issue 2 is voted down and the new district boundaries stick, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican, will have next to no chance of losing office until the next round of redistricting.
So Republicans have launched attacks against Issue 2. At this point, it’s easy to imagine the electorate either has no idea what Issue 2 is or has a very confused picture. It’s time to clear up any confusion and myths.
The basics: Issue 2 is a proposed constitutional amendment that will put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting. The commission will be made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and four Independents. They will redraw district boundaries under some set guidelines.
The amendment outlines how the members of the commission will be picked. Through a complicated, multilayer process that goes through the judicial and legislative branches of the state government, nine commission members — three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independents — will be picked. Those nine commission members will then pick one Republican, one Democrat and one Independent to fill in the last three seats. The entire process must be done within the public view.
The candidates for the seats will not be eligible if they or any immediate family members have served as a federal or state official or lobbyist within 10 years of applying. Candidates also will not qualify if they have run for office, acted as a paid employee for a campaign or political party or made political contributions in a two-year period that exceeded $5,000 within five years of applying.
The commission will also have some special rules to follow for redrawing districts. The new districts must follow established county, city, town and municipality boundaries as much as possible. The new districts will also have to avoid giving one political party an advantage, and political party representation across districts will have to match results from the most recent statewide election.
If voters approve Issue 2, it will kick in immediately, and the commission will redraw districts before the next federal or state election.
Although it has clear guidelines, Republican attacks have confused the new process for much of the electorate. One accusation is Issue 2 would give a “blank check” to fund the commission, with the implication that it would cause runaway spending. Not so, said the Ohio Supreme Court in a ruling: “The actual text of the proposed constitutional amendment does not state that the redistricting commission would have … a blank check for all funds as determined by the commission. Rather, the proposed constitutional amendment expressly limits appropriations for the commission to those ‘necessary to adequately fund the activities’ of the commission.”
The attack is so misleading Republicans actually agreed to stop using it. Facing possible disciplinary action from the Ohio Elections Commission, Republicans settled with Voters First Ohio, the coalition supporting Issue 2, to stop using the phrase “blank check” in Issue 2 advertisements.
Republicans have also criticized Issue 2 for putting unelected officials in charge of redistricting. This is true, but that’s kind of the point. The current problem with the system, as argued by Voters First, is elected officials are too vested in re-election to place the district boundary needs of the public above electoral needs. So making the panel unelected is going at the heart of the problem.
What’s sad is Voters First’s claim is one that was previously touted by Republican hero Ronald Reagan. In his final interview as president, Reagan claimed, “I think that this is a great conflict of interest to ask men holding office, elected from districts, to change the lines of that district to fit the new population changes. … The result is that I think gerrymandering (politicized redistricting) is the basis of what takes place.”
CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] and @germanrlopez